copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert
'Twas October 18 and Congress was a twitter. Senators and Representatives fought and they flittered. Some thought society must provide for the children. Others maintained only parents need be responsible for their wards. Congressional Democrats discussed and debated. For them Health Care for the little ones, that was the issue. When suddenly they realized this pursuit was not viable. A few thought if they built a coalition, designed a compromise all would be well. Thus, a proposal was submitted. Funds for the children in the form of Abstinence Education, surely, that would fly; health insurance went bye-bye.
As Congress deliberated and did few deeds, parents congregated and presumed a great need. In the corners of Portland, Maine parents chattered and prattled. Could we, should we, would we give our Middle School students a prescription. Might contraceptives and condoms cure societal ills? For these fine citizens sex was the subject. Who might the teacher be?
These anecdotes are as one. Elders inquire; who or how might we care for the little ones. What is right and what is wrong; what is neither, just misunderstood. In the House chambers, on the Senate floor, in living rooms near and far anxious adults ponder the possibilities their parents did not. Is sex a subject to be taught by the states, or once the babies arrive at school, is it too late.
This is a tale of two families. The dynamics differ. Perchance, you will recognize yourself in the home of one or the other, perhaps not. I invite you to sit for a while. Settle into that cozy chair. Curl up and snuggle as stories of the untold unfold . . .
At eight months old, she was walking, talking, and toilet trained herself. Her Mom was astounded; nevertheless pleased. Barbara had been diligent in her desire. She did not place an external expectation on her daughter. This Mom did not attempt to hasten or delay development. Abstinence, until the child was presumed ready was not an option. Nor did Barbara ask an expert to be her guide.
Bodily functions such as the ability to place one foot in front of the other and maintain balance, speech, or the movement of bowels or urine were taught with love. When suitable, Mom would model behaviors. If the act was extremely personal and meant to be performed only in private, Mommy would elucidate and state why.
Training began for baby Betsy at birth. Barbara encouraged curiosity, while she explained social mores. Little Betsy questioned everything. Interestingly, once she decided to use the lavatory, she did not inquire or ask for assistance. The young girl, barely a toddler, voiced her intent. Then, she wandered off in the direction of the restroom.
With the potty seat in hand, Barbara went in the direction of the bathroom. She trusted Betsy would be there. Indeed Little Bit, as her Dad called her, was. She had jumped down from her perch on the porcelain bowl, stood in silence, and listened to the water whoosh down the bowl.
All those months of taking this baby to the toilet when Mom herself needed to use the facility worked well. A prideful parent, Barbara mused, "Babies are a bundle of joy." Precious petite ones are bright as light, and full of life. Who knows what wonders are within them or what they will bring to this world.
Berenice Barbara understood that her daughter could, in later years, bring a child into the world. She wanted little Betsy to make an informed decision, just as she had when she chose to use the loo. Mommy would not engage in this act in front of the child. Physical intimacy is indeed a private affair and must be honored as such. Mommy wanted Little Bit to understand the depth of this personal and venerated connection.
This Mom thought it vital that her daughter understand human biology if she were ever to appreciate the intricacies of her body. However, Barbara also recognized that a fixation on the physical would negate what was most important when intercourse occurs, the love between two beings. Just as she did when she helped her littlest female offspring to walk, talk, and use the toilet, Berenice made certain children's books were available on the subject. Barbara placed various illustrated texts in every bathroom. She encouraged questions, offered accurate, and informed answers. Barbara did not push; she trusted.
Periodically, this Mommy inquired in a delicate manner. Berenice Barbara wished to ensure that Betsy was familiar with physical functions, the parts of the body, human anatomy, and adopted an attitude of reverence towards life and physical love. Mom understood that information without explanation might distort a discovery. She had no desire to do damage and knew she could. The subject of sex is a delicate one; yet, a necessary discussion.
Betsy thought the talk silly. There was no reason for Mom to worry when her daughter was so young. By the time the little girl was five years of age, Mommy was convinced; Little Bit had much knowledge.
When friends gathered to tell jokes and talk of sex, Betsy thought them childish. They knew nothing and professed as experts would. Some giggled; others shied away from such chatter. Yet, they too were keenly intent. They yearned to learn. A few explored with friends. For Betsy, the fascination was folly.
Actual engagement seemed necessary at an early age for those desperate to understand what was not discussed in their homes. Berenice Barbara had faith Betsy would wait. She would reassure the young girl that when the time was right she could come to her parents for protection.
Indeed, only after careful consideration did Betsy decide she would engage in the cherished act. She chose her partner well. Betsy did not need to seek love she never felt at home. She had no need to rebel. She was not curious about what seemed a mystery to her. Nor did she romanticize the rendezvous For Little Bit, there was always ample information; thus, zero fascination. She did not experience intercourse as an unknown. Fortunately, for Betsy sex was not shrouded in shame.
Across the street and down the path a bit, another mother and father brood. The two consider their children their offspring are as blank slates, easily influenced by evil forces. Society is sinful. Man is a beast. One never knows who might sway the sponge-like mind of small people.
Unlike Betsy who was taught to trust her intuitions, respect others, and herself, revere her body and mind, and most of all inquire no matter what the topic, Erin and Eric were raised to fear. Their Mom and Dad, just as most in the neighborhood were apprehensive. They envisioned the boogey man was behind every door. Often these parents pondered; "What might my child be exposed to." In The New York Times the father read Birth Control Allowed at Maine Middle School. What can a parent do to protect the young?
The United States Congress thought they knew what would be best for the children. Erin and Eric's Mom and Dad might agree with the decision to increase funds for Abstinence Only programs. Sex for the sake of stimulation is sinful. Only wedded persons should engage in such entanglements. Propagation is prized. However, others, such as Betsy's Mom might question the actions of a bipartisan leadership.
Abstinence 1, S-Chip 0
By Amanda Robb
The New York Times
October 18, 2007
Democratic leaders are right to contest President Bush's veto of their bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance program. But sadly, their "bipartisan compromise" will leave millions of young Americans vulnerable to sickness and suffering of the most preventable kind.
To entice Republicans to support the bill, the House of Representatives agreed to increase money for abstinence-only sex education by $28 million, to about $200 million a year. Abstinence-only courses, the only form of federally financed sex ed, teach that sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to cause psychological and physical harm.
If that were true, our health care system would be not only broken, but also besieged. A 2002 survey found that 93 percent of American adults had had premarital sex by the age of 30.
In addition to provoking shame about a nearly universal activity, abstinence-only sex education is ineffective and dangerous. Last April, a 10-year study found that students who took abstinence-only courses were no more likely to abstain from sex than other students. Previous studies revealed that abstinence-only students avoid using contraception.
Programs in public schools teach patently false information like "the chances of getting pregnant with a condom are one out of six" and H.I.V. "may be in your body for a long time (from a few months to as long as 10 years or more) before it can be detected."
The results are tragic. The United States has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the developed world (about the same as Ukraine's), and the highest abortion rate in the Western world. Sexually transmitted infections like syphilis and gonorrhea are on the rise for the first time since the 1980s, and Chlamydia is being diagnosed twice as often as it was a decade ago.
The adults in this home do not want young Erin or Eric to hear a conversation that could have a dire effect on their young minds. Often, when the elders chat in this family they spell words or used forms that are thought "appropriate" for children. Mom and Dad are very careful about what they let into the lives of their loved little ones.
As the parents plan the perfect life for Erin and Eric, colorful images flash on the tube. Violent, snide, rude, and crude cartoon characters cackle on screen. Advertisements vie for the attention of a captive audience. Girls gyrate. Boys build body mass, and bounce beautiful buxom women on their knees.
Meanwhile mother discusses the possible pressures a commercial culture imposes on children. Father filters what comes into the house. He looks over at young Eric absorbed in the images as they emanate from the tube and states, "Beware of girl that do not wear panties." Dad then turns to Mom and asserts we must protect our cherished children from corruptive forces. The two work to do so daily.
Typically, on the day of rest, the parents dress baby Erin in her Sunday best. Eric too is clothed in his finest. Mom and Dad don the proper attire, and then, they all depart for a morning of prayer. The family files into a regal building with other parishioners. The milieu is impressive in its majesty. The four join the congregation.
Religious ceremonies will teach the proper lessons. The words of the clergy echo throughout the chamber. The sermon is instructive. "This is the message I want my newborn to hear, to embrace, to feel deeply in her heart," Mommy thinks. She glances over at her little lad. His eyes are large. Eric appears captivated. Mom relaxes, comfortable with her choices.
Daddy beams. My son will learn right from wrong. He will be as his 'old man' is, an exemplary elder. His daughter, in time, will dutifully follow the lead of her parents and worship well. If only societal ills can be kept at bay.
This father felt much apprehension and he believed he had ample reason for his worry. He mused; no one seems to care. Even when Congress attempts to do well, the State supplants any attempt to do the right thing, or so was this Dad's interpretation of the day's news.
New York Just Says No to Abstinence Funding
By Jennifer Medina
The New York Times
New York is rejecting millions of dollars in federal grants for abstinence-only sex education, the state health commissioner, Dr. Richard F. Daines, announced yesterday. The decision puts New York in line with at least 10 other states that have decided to forgo the federal money in recent years.
New York has received roughly $3.5 million a year from the federal government for abstinence-only education since 1998. The abstinence program was approved as part of welfare overhauls under the Clinton administration and was expanded and restructured under President Bush.
In a statement posted on the Health Department's Web site, Dr. Daines said, "The Bush administration's abstinence-only program is an example of a failed national healthcare policy directive." He added that the policy was "based on ideology rather than on sound scientific-based evidence that must be the cornerstone of good public healthcare policy."
The state had also spent $2.6 million annually to fund the same programs over the last decade. That money will now be spent on other existing programs for sex education, Dr. Daines said in an interview.
Supporters of abstinence-only education said it should remain an option. "We've seen a lot of attacks on this program," said Leslee Unruh, the president of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, based in South Dakota. "A lot of kids that are abstaining are made to feel as if they are from a Victorian age and they are not with the 'Sex and the City' crowd."
. . . Dr. Daines said that existing state programs include discussion of abstinence. But he said the state made the decision based on evidence that the abstinence-only program did little to prevent teen pregnancies. He said he also objected to the program's "narrow ideological view, which is not the direction we want to go in for sexual health." He said the state should encourage the teaching of the use of condoms and include discussions of abstinence.
After the service, the four go on about their day. Dad barked orders. Mom manipulated her husband. She has wants and he holds the money clip. Brother balks. Little Eric bellows out his commands. "You can't make me!" He too has an agenda. When subtleties do not work Eric sternly voices his vents. He cries when his needs are not met. "You don't love me anymore." He has learned; martyrdom is the message that resonates best for him. Baby girl Erin observes. She is as a sponge. She takes it all in.
This fine, upstanding family walks down the street, then into a store. They shop for household products. As they stroll, the wide-eyed son picks up a periodical. A woman barely clad is displayed on the cover. Mom grabs the magazine away from the lad and screams, "No!" "Bad boy," she exclaims. Dad smiles. His lips are turned up. His teeth are exposed as though he approves. The boy is confused. Then, his father snaps. The smile becomes a smirk. His words are scornful. Baby girl bawls. She sheds tears as the drama mounts. Then the whimper becomes a bawl. This is not fun for her.
Finally, after much turmoil the family returns home. The baby's bottom is wet. Mom gently places Erin on the changing table and prepares a clean diaper. Eric looks on. At first all is well. However, as the young boy notices the unmentionable and says so he is shooed away. Eric, banished for his observations feels the intense ignominy he felt as a baby. The vivid remembrance lives larger than his erect penis did when he was the one whose diapers were changed.
Eric recalls that as an infant, he was soothed and felt serene as his mother powdered his bottom. He remembers her gentle touch on his skin. The cool, yet dry dust warmed his damp flesh. To this day, in his mind, he sees his Mom smile with delight as she and her son engaged. Then, suddenly, she became anxious. His genitalia was hard, and she thought that awful, or at least that is how he interpreted her expression. Instead of slowly and softly caressing her young male child, the mother never again took pleasure in the diaper change that, from then on was but a chore, one that seemed to anger this female parent.
Eric's mother must not have known that what now causes her son great shame; babies are easily aroused and take pleasure in physical stimulation.
[S]exuality isn't created in a child by her first sex education class. Nor is it turned on by a single hormonal switch that gets flipped at puberty. Instead, try thinking of sexuality as something assembled by each developing child over a period of years out of component parts. Some of the components a child will use for this job are on hand at birth, such as her [or his] genitals. When you get a baby girl, the vulva is included, [for the boy, the penis is part of the package] and even before she can speak she will discover that touching her [or his] genitals feels good. It looks like there's something sexual about that act, but full-fledged sexuality requires more than sensitive genitals . . .
As with other newborns, at diaper time Eloise's [Erin's] and Max's [Eric's] parents may be able to observe that they have spontaneous arousals. Max will develop an erection. Eloise-although it will be much harder to see-will lubricate. It is unclear what causes these arousals at this age, whether they are responses to physical stimulation or to an internal signal in the baby's mind or body. Some consider these arousals a kind of reflex. They represent the earliest functioning after birth of a child's sexual apparatus.
Being held and caressed are among the greatest pleasures of infant life. So is having your chin stroked and your back rubbed. And so is playing with your genitals. In her eighth month, Eloise coos when her diaper is changed if she feels a breeze on her labia. Max, at ten months, likes to play with his penis, especially in the bath when the water is warm.
It is not clear at what age children begin to find genital stimulation more pleasurable than gentle touching elsewhere on their body. But infants certainly do seek it out, often before their first birthday. Can they have an orgasm if they stimulate themselves? No one really knows what an infant is feeling, but responses that look like orgasms (without ejaculation in boys) have been observed in children during their first year.
Friends and other family members may be willing to speak in a whisper, if the room is dark. Other children might accept an invitation to come out and play. If a cloistered child cannot find fulfillment, a release, or a meaningful connection to what brings great angst he or she may seek comfort in ways that can and perchance will destroy families and a healthy foundation.
Young girls desirous of love may mistake sex for an authentic adoration. This may leave them vulnerable to young and older men that want only a female body to bond with. The child Emotional Testimony From Online Predator Victim rings in our ears.
Six years ago, Alicia Kozakiewicz says she was just a normal 13-year-old girl. That all changed on New Year's Day 2002. Today, she recounted for Congress how an online sexual predator befriended her in an Internet chat room, then kidnapped her, drove her across state lines and locked her in a cage in his basement, where he beat her, tortured her and raped her.
"I cry inside. I mourn for that child that was me. The child that was stolen from me. Make no mistake -- that child was murdered. I know now that some parts of me are forever there. The child that I was is still chained in that room, still suffering."
Kozakiewicz warned the House Judiciary Committee of the widespread dangers of Internet sex crimes.
"The boogey man is real. And he lives on the Net. He lived in my computer -- and he lives in yours," she said, looking at the lawmakers. "While you are sitting here, he is at home with your children."
Erin may become as many a young and sheltered girl. The attention of a young suitor may entice her. She may lose her virginity in hopes that she pleases the young gent that holds her hand. However, teen romances rarely last long; however, the effects of these do.
Girls who have sex at an early age are at slightly greater risk than their peers for feeling depressed, a new study has found. But their self-esteem suffers only if the sex occurs outside a romantic relationship.
When we do not nurture the natural, and teach propriety and decorum before a child becomes a pubescent, then we will reap what we have sowed, a sexually stimulated society that knows not how to love, when, or where.
If we as culture continue to flaunt our physical figures, to objectify people when we feel aroused, then I fear we will create what we most dread. We will become a society obsessed with what was not explained early on, the transitions that we accepted, expected, or adopted as children. Numerous children embrace modesty. It makes sense to those taught to welcome it. Others adapt; they feel shame when they experience sexual stimulation. Life experiences etch a being.
Eloise, at the age of eight, has a favorite place in the woods behind her house where she and her friends hide out. Occasionally they play "husbands," a game they invented together. One gets to be the husband, another plays the wife, and a third gives the instructions. The husband and wife pretend to come home from work and then take off their clothes. (This game is better played in the summer.) The director, Eloise's favorite role, tells the husband which part of his wife's body to touch. All the girls find this game pretty exciting.
As they grow through middle childhood, children are more likely to have had this kind of sex play with peers. The quality of their play is different from before. It is not only much more covert than it was in preschool; a new feeling of physical excitement and arousal may enter the picture. Yet, children this age still don't seem to pick sex-play partners because they are attracted to them, and they don't feel that they are having a romance.
At age eight, Max has a way with woodies. They come and go throughout the day, but Max hasn't yet had to give his erections a lot of thought. They seem to do fine without much input from him. Woodies just happen.
In 1943, one research group interviewed 291 boys to find out what it was that gave them erections. The boys dutifully provided an exhaustive list. It included, among other highlights, sitting in class, sitting in church, sitting in warm sand, and setting a field on fire. The national anthem was also responsible for a few erections. So was finding money (understandable) and, for a few unfortunates, being asked to go to the front of the class.
Good grades and hurricanes do indeed give Max erections, but at age ten, there are some new items on his list. Like underwear ads.
Erin ponders copulation. She longs to be part of a couple, to be touched, and loved. Yet, if the relationship does not last, is she then spoiled, soiled, and unsuitable for intimacy. Sex, love, the mind, the body, and the heart. Erin and Eric are each uncertain, they know not where one begins or the other ends. Perchance they are intertwined. The children feel certain they are not.
The family spoke of love; it was good to feel cherished. Mother and father did not discuss sex. That topic was bad. Eric and Erin heard the phrase "making love" and understood this involved intercourse. So many questions; too few answers.
As Americans discuss and debate, who will teach the children about the birds and the bees. Perchance we will stop the bickering long enough to notice, our young are learning. They learned many lessons while we battled.
If parents and people shame a child, blame a child, and do not explain sex to children, our young will not survive as they might. We may inquire into infinity at what age will our children learn to be wise and wondrous. Perhaps, the more significant sentiment might be, when do we dare share our souls and ensure safety for the young.
Parents must ponder; they cannot always be there to protect or defend. Teachers possibly arrive too late to be truly effective when sex is the subject. As elders we must teach the children to think for themselves, to trust in their knowledge. If the young have no information, or only have what causes them pain, then . . . shame will be the sorrow they harbor. If we continue to create a culture that closets, celebrates, and yet does not cherish, then what will be, will be. Indeed, it already is.
Sources and Sex Education . . .